Figure 4. Based on 278 respondents who use applications from SAP and other vendors.
To quantify the build-versus-buy approaches of BI solutions for SAP, TDWI’s survey first identified respondents who are SAP users, then asked them: “Which best describes how you built your BI solution for SAP?” (See Figure 5.) A whopping 75% reported acquiring BI products from SAP, which is a high penetration of BI products for an applications vendor.
Figure 5. Based on 172 respondents who are SAP users.
Note that the level of customization varies with SAP BI products. Relatively few use SAP BI products “as is” (10%), while most assign in-house personnel (35%) or hire consultants (30%) to customize them. Customization has ramifications for packaged solutions:
- BI solutions are hard to package. That’s because an organization’s BI data sources, its data models, and its report presentations all vary tremendously. However, if you narrow the scope of the BI solution to specific use cases, which SAP NetWeaver BI does by focusing on standard business processes, the breadth of user requirements is reduced, thereby reducing the difficulties of packaging a solution that works for multiple user organizations. But BI requirements still vary somewhat, even when focused on ERP, so organizations inevitably customize to some degree.
- The greater the customization, the greater the difficulty of upgrading. Some SAP customers would like to upgrade from older BW releases to recent NetWeaver BI ones, but they feel that customization makes the upgrade too difficult to attempt. Let’s all recognize that customization is inevitable with BI products, so upgrades usually involve development work.
- Avoiding customization reduces project time and cost. A tried-and-true strategy for a packaged solution is to roll out the first phase with little or no customization, then tailor the solution to organizational requirements in subsequent phases.
“We started our implementation of SAP BW in 2002, working in parallel with the firm’s implementation of the SAP ERP,” said Brian Hickie, former VP of Business Intelligence at McKesson Pharmaceutical. “We only had nine months to implement the data warehouse, along with considerable ETL jobs and a number of initial analytics and reports. We made the deadline despite the fact that the SAP ERP configuration precluded the use of standard business content or standard data extractors; the ETL jobs and BW required a considerable amount of configuration to provide the data to generate analytics and reports from the ERP and legacy systems.”
Developing home-grown BI solutions isn’t as common as other approaches in Figure 6 (16%). However, other survey questions showed higher rates, and survey respondents who selected “Other” entered responses that involve home-grown solutions:
- SAP BW and EDWs can coexist peacefully. Some BI solutions for SAP involve both NetWeaver BI (specifically the BW component) and an independent enterprise data warehouse (EDW). For example, one survey respondent said: “We both use BW and extract SAP data into a data warehouse.” Another reported using “BW and an in-house solution based on Oracle and Business Objects,” while yet another said, “[We] use SAP BI as an OLAP tool to access a Teradata EDW.”
- Some BI solutions for SAP are a work in progress. As one survey respondent put it, “We’re in transition from a legacy custom-developed EDW to SAP BI.”
Issues in Software Acquisition Strategies
TDWI asked of SAP users taking this report’s survey: “What was the primary reason for your organization’s implementation of a BI solution for SAP?” In the survey, the question had no pre-written answers to select; instead, each respondent typed an answer in his/her own words. Many respondents turned the question into a soapbox, because they have strong feelings either for or against SAP as a preferred software supplier and how that predetermines the products they use.
- For many organizations, naming SAP a priority supplier leads inevitably to SAP BI products. Some respondents stated this in matter-of-fact answers such as: “SAP is our preferred provider in all areas.” Others made a direct causal link: “Using SAP ERP was the main driver to start with an SAP BW solution” and “SAP is selected as our common platform, which includes BW.”
- Some spoke of the positive leverage between NetWeaver BI and SAP ERP. “BW is a good fit on top of SAP ERP and SAP CRM,” enabling users “to leverage prebuilt content and integration with the ERP.” According to other survey respondents: “Most of our [BI] information is sourced from SAP components,” and “BW provides a direct link to primary source data.”
- A few people complained about the SAP-centric strategy. One claimed that using SAP BI products is due to a “strategic decision to use SAP overall, even when it does not fit.” Others received SAP BI products due to management actions beyond their control: “It [NetWeaver BI] was paid for in an overall package of software” and “parent company purchased SAP solutions.” Selecting a preferred supplier is a good procurement practice, in general, but it’s frustrating for IT professionals when the strategy doesn’t consider user requirements.
- Most mentioned the usual benefits of BI as reasons for implementing a BI solution. Several listed common BI goals like better decision making or improved corporate performance. Others cited specific BI needs such as financial reporting, datasets for business analysts, or operational reporting based on SAP ERP source data.
“All of my clients have multiple application modules from SAP, and for most of them, that’s a good enough reason to get their BI technology from SAP,” said a consultant who specializes in BI solutions for SAP. “Why bother with an independent data warehouse? BW infrastructure—especially with recent NetWeaver releases—is almost identical to what you’d build into an independent warehouse. So the common practice I see is to leverage what you already have, instead of reinventing the BI wheel. Also, my clients trust SAP as a large, stable, non-acquirable vendor. In terms of best of breed, other BI and data integration tools are better, but SAP’s offering is relatively complete and pretty good. And the direct integration between BI and ERP is hard to beat.”
“We have a mature, best-of-breed technology stack for data warehousing and business intelligence, but it’s currently at risk because our company’s being acquired by a company with a deep commitment to SAP applications and BI,” said an enterprise data architect. “We’re under pressure to abandon our EDW and go with SAP NetWeaver BI, but we’re not sure it will meet our requirements for strategic and financial reporting, much less scale up. The merger is barely under way, and we’ve just started investigating NetWeaver, so it’ll be a long time before we know which way to go.”
Philip Russom is the senior manager of TDWI Research and oversees many of TDWI’s research-oriented publications, services, and events. He can be reached at [email protected]. This article was excerpted from the full, 32-page report by the same name. You can download this and other TDWI Research free of charge at www.tdwi.org/research. The report was sponsored by Business Objects, Cognos, HP, IBM, Microsoft, MicroStrategy, SAP, and Teradata Corporation.